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State Approves Bill To Ban Employers From Seeking Facebook Login Info

The practice of employers asking job applicants for their account login information for Facebook and other social media sites is meeting its backlash, as Maryland is poised to be among the first states to ban the practice. The state's General Assembly has passed the bill, which now awaits the signature of Gov. Martin O'Malley, reports The Baltimore Sun.

O'Malley is expected to sign the bill into law, reports The Gazette.

Melissa Goemann, who directs the American Civil Liberties Union's legislative efforts in Maryland, tells the Sun, "this is a really positive development, because the technology for social media is expanding every year, and we think this sets a really good precedent for limiting how much your privacy can be exposed when you use these mediums."

Goemann says the ACLU took up the case of Maryland Corrections Officer Robert Collins, who had been asked to give his Facebook login and password to Corrections officials during a recertification interview.

Collins appeared on All Things Considered last month, when he told NPR's Robert Siegel:

"I was mortified when they asked me for my username and password. So he asked me for the username and password, and then he began to log onto the account. So as he continued to do what he did, I was asking him what he was looking for and what he was doing. Well, he said he was going through my messages, my wall, and my friends list and my pictures to make sure that I was not gang-affiliated."

"But I felt violated; I felt disrespected. I felt that my privacy was invaded but not only my privacy, the privacy of my friends and that of my family, that didn't ask for that."

As news spread of similar cases, legislators at the state and federal level vowed to take action and ban the practice, on the grounds that it is an unreasonable invasion of a job-seeker's privacy. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Richard Blumenthal say they asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether the practice is illegal.

In addition to Maryland, Illinois and other states are close to enacting legislation banning the interview practice. And Facebook has also expressed its disapproval, releasing a statement titled "Protecting Your Passwords and Your Privacy," in which the social network's Erin Egan, its chief privacy officer, said:

"We don't think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don't think it's the right thing to do. But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating. For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don't hire that person."

And employers might also find themselves in a position where its managers or other workers might be presented with private information that they haven't been trained to handle, Egan wrote.

Last month, labor law expert Steve Kane struck a similar tone, when he told NPR's Dana Farrington that while many employers may be seeking merely "job-related information," they're also "playing with fire."

And in a column this week for Forbes, Jeanne Meister wrote about "What Employers Should Be Doing" instead of asking their potential employees for their login details. Her main point was that the practice had downsides ranging from bad public relations to appearing out of touch with the modern world.

"So instead of scaring off prospective hires, companies should invest in training employees to use social media responsibly," Meister wrote.

In the All Things Considered interview, Collins said, "I mean, it's no different than me saying OK, I want to come into your home and install cameras, to see what you're doing on an everyday basis. It's just unreasonable."

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